James Shield: Sheffield United should ignore footballing misery guts, the game is about joy

Not so long ago, I watched ‘Non ci resta che piangere’ at one of the regular film nights staged by the owners of my favourite bar.
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You’ve probably guessed they hail from Naples. Which also just happens to be one of my favourite cities. And the movie, which translates into English as ‘Nothing Left to do but Cry’ is actually a comedy stroke fantasy about two friends who, not by their own choosing, get whisked back in time.

I was reminded of that delightful event by two things which have happened in the space of the past week. The first was the outrage of a well-known television pundit when he saw Sheffield United being presented with a trophy for finishing as runners-up in the Championship. The second was reading a Tweet by the club’s former goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, who wondered why it was wrong for Paul Heckingbottom’s side to celebrate securing the division’s second automatic promotion berth and be awarded a trophy but fine for other teams to go absolutely ape if they win a play-off final or avoid relegation in dramatic circumstances?

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As what has been a memorable season for United draws to a close - they contest their final match before returning to the top-flight at Birmingham City on Monday - let me tell you this: I’m firmly in Kenny’s camp. When they look back on their recent achievements, which also include reaching the semi-finals of th FA Cup, I’m damn sure Heckingbottom and his squad won’t care two hoots about what Paul Merson had to say as the footage of the party which followed last Saturday’s victory over Preston North End was piped back to the SKY studios. But it’s also important to point out that the former Arsenal and Middlesbrough forward got his take badly wrong for two very big reasons.

Scroll back to the very start of the campaign, if it was actually possible to walk in the footsteps of Mario and Severio, and think about the answer United would have given had you asked them what their target was. It would have been ‘Go up’. Not ‘Win the Division’, although being utterly competitive-beings they’d doubtless have quite fancied beating Burnley to first place. But Vincent Kompany’s men, who also went barmy after securing their return to the top-flight, weren’t delighted because they were leading the competition. They were overjoyed at the thought of being back in the PL. Going up is what motivates clubs in the EFL’s flagship tournament. Being given a medal is just an added extra.

Merson and those who agreed with him on social media also overlooked another important fact during their bloody miserable diatribes: Football, when all is said and done, should be about bringing joy to the fans. God knows, as the game becomes increasingly scientific and fixated upon results, it could benefit from a little injection of happiness. With VAR squeezing spontaneity out of the sport and obsession with things like XG figures and incursion statistics making it feel like a pretty soulless place, I fail to comprehend how someone could be so offended by the sight of United’s squad and coaching staff celebrating with their followers?

If that’s a crime then, just like directors Massimo Troisi and Roberto Benigni noted, the only thing to do is weep.